by: chicago designslinger
[Buckingham Fountain (1927) Edward Bennett, Bennett, Parsons & Frost, architects; Marcel Loyar, sculptor /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Just a little over a week ago Mayor Richard M. Daley turned on the spigot to launch the seasonal flow of water at Chicago's Buckingham Fountain. It was his last time as mayor, after serving 22 years in office, and the 84th time for the center spout to announce the arrival of Spring and Summer.
[Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Although named for Clarence Buckingham, the fountain wouldn't exist without the beneficence of his sister Kate. Kate Sturges Buckingham was one of three children conceived, raised, and made rich by Ebenezer Buckingham who made a fortune owning grain elevators in Chicago and becoming a bank president. When widower Ebenezer died in 1912, he left his multi-million dollar estate to his three surviving children, Kate, her brother Clarence, and sister Lucy Maude, none of whom ever married. In 1913 when Clarence, a wealthy businessman in his own right died of heart disease, he left his millions to his two sisters, and when Lucy died in 1920, she left her millions to sister Kate. So when all was said and done the last surviving sibling was sitting on a stack of cash worth around $4 million, or $63 million in today's dollars.
[Buckingham Fountain /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
With all those millions and no immediate family to leave it to, Kate donated a large portion of the Buckingham fortune to various charitable and arts organizations. Clarence and Kate were big supporters of Chicago's Art Institute, and after Clarence's death his collection of Asian art was given to the museum along with a large endowment from his sister. In the 1920s as the city's front yard, Grant Park, was expanding, Ms. Buckingham decided that as a gift to the city and its citizens, she would take part in architect Edward Bennett's Beaux-Arts exercise in urban design by providing the funds for a fountain to sit at the park's center. Hating to see her name in the press or receiving any personal recognition for her endeavors, (she insisted that her name be removed from the Social Register and never put back in again) Kate gave the money under the condition that it be named in memory of her brother. She not only supplied the $700,000 it took to build the thing but also provided a $300,000 endowment fund to generate revenue for the running and maintenance of the giant water spectacular. When Kate Sturges Buckingham died in 1937, $2.2 million ($33 million today) of that $4 million dollar estate was left to the Art Institute, the largest gift up to that time. And her tribute to her brother is still flowing 84 years later.